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Mercury’s Taurasi says this could be last offseason playing in Russia

FILE - In this May 9, 2016, file photo, Phoenix Mercury's Diana Taurasi smiles as she speaks during a news conference at the team's basketball media day, in Phoenix. Still thriving at 35, a case could be made that the Phoenix Mercury guard is the greatest player in women's basketball history. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

PHOENIX — Her locker was empty but her memories were full. Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi said Monday it was a bittersweet moment for her as she thought about the good and bad her team did in a season that ended a night earlier against the Los Angeles Sparks.

“When you look back on the season, I think I’m just the most proud on how we stayed together throughout a lot of adversity and bringing back a lot of new players,” she said after exit meetings and locker cleaning at Talking Stick Resort Arena. “You never know what’s going to happen or how things are going to play out, but we just had a group that was so unselfish. All they were worried about was how the team was doing, and I think that’s why we got to a point where we were last night, where we’re a possession from playing tomorrow night to go to the Finals.

“The flip side of that, it’s a sad moment, a little somber when you come back to the locker room knowing that’s the last time that team is ever going to be together. That’s the way of sports with free agency and people moving around. That group will never be together again.”

Though the WNBA season is over for Taurasi, her time in Russia is approaching quickly. Like many WNBA players, Taurasi plays out of the country during the offseason to make more money since league salaries, by comparison, are low.

The maximum amount a veteran WNBA player can earn this season is $111,500. For UMMC Ekaterinburg, Taurasi is making about $1.5 million.

She isn’t the only one competing out of the country. Nearly half of the league’s players do to secure more lucrative contracts than they would in the United States.

Taurasi, who will have two weeks of rest before jumping back into the fray, in her “safe haven with no distractions,” said that going back to back from the WNBA season to playing in Russia can be a grind. Although she will use her two weeks to “decompress and get things in order” and that she still “loves the grind,” it doesn’t mean she’ll play forever.

“I’ve just been doing it for so long it’s kind of become easier,” Taurasi said. “The minute Phoenix starts, I’m all in. The minute Russia starts, I’m all in. It’s probably my last year in Russia. Being 35, that’s probably the first thing that goes. I’m still looking forward to getting there and hopefully winning some championships.”

Though Taurasi has seemingly made up her mind on Russia, she didn’t give the same answer about playing in the WNBA. She said she still enjoys playing basketball and the competitive spirit, but the minute she wakes up and doesn’t want to play is the day she’ll stop.

That moment hasn’t come yet, as she said she felt great this season and is excited for May to come.

“This is probably as good as I felt in a long time,” Taurasi said. “I didn’t have any injuries, well, any I told you guys about, and I felt good. I felt mentally fresh and that always helps when you have a group of players that make it enjoyable.

“It made the season go by pretty fast and I thought we did some good things.”

Taurasi made it clear that she has her eyes set on one thing.

“There’s only one goal and that’s to win a championship and every year you fall short of it, you leave with a little sour taste in your mouth,” she said. “And I think this year, we all were aiming towards that, and hopefully we put some things together that’ll help us for next year.”

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